Guatemala Project


The Need

CEFONMA, a Guatemalan boarding school, has no supply of water for three months each year when their spring runs dry. Students lose time and motivation for school as they walk to “nearby” water sources, often dangerously contaminated by unsustainable waste disposal practices. The school has a capacity for 400 students; however water availability issues have reduced enrollment significantly. CEFONMA also  disposes of waste by digging pits that are paved over with concrete when full, but this method has reduced the school’s productive land and has potential for contaminating nearby water sources.

The Response

The Engineers without Borders-Virginia Tech-Guatemala team (EWB-VT-GT) has written alternative analyses and discussed options with CEFONMA that would allow the school to grow as its directors envision. Water source options for the school include a well, rainwater harvesting, water conservation, and storage tanks to hold water through the dry season. Potential water treatment alternatives include upgrades to a UV treatment system installed in 2009 by EWB-VT-GT, slow sand filtration, shock chlorination following contamination events, and first flush for a rainwater harvesting system. The preferred wastewater disposal method involves a septic tank with a drain field on purchased land. EWB-VT-GT has divided into three specialized work forces to fundraise, analyze the water supply alternatives, and design the wastewater disposal system. The team will use survey, soil characterization, and water quality data alongside well driller and engineer contacts from communities near CEFONMA to design the water and wastewater systems. Constant communication with CEFONMA is a priority for EWB-VT-GT, taking the form of frequent calls to both the school's director and the school's groundsman, meetings with the staff, teachers, and students during each trip to Guatemala, and written instructions of tasks for CEFONMA to complete while EWB-VT-GT works from Virginia. EWB-VT-GT is determined to ensure that CEFONMA ultimately accepts responsibility for the final outputs of the project.


Guatemala Project Timeline
In 2012 EWB-VT completed the analysis of the water supply options for the school, designed a septic system for the site, presented the septic system designs to the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) of EWB-USA, and traveled to Guatemala for a site assessment. The team is now incorporating the new information from EWB-USA's TAC and from the site assessment into the septic system designs. The completed designs will be re-submitted for review by EWB-USA and an engineer from Chajul, a municipality nearby CEFONMA that may have funding for the project. EWB-VT-GT hopes to implement a septic system on CEFONMA's campus in May 2013. The water supply side of the project awaits funding to be raised for a well or confirmation that a new 1 day on, 2 day off water cycle agreement will begin and be sustained between CEFONMA and the adjacent town of Xix. Fundraising efforts underway and to continue through the project's conclusion include presentations to U.S. and Guatemalan Rotary clubs, meetings with local businesses, benefit concerts at Virginia Tech, and constant grant writing.


The Guatemala team flew into Guatemala City on May 15, 2011. They met with a local drilling company and gathered supplies before traveling to Xix. In Xix they surveyed the site and preformed soil tests. They also learned about common illnesses in the area from a doctor at a nearby clinic.

The team showed students how to use water quality kits. They collected more medical data at Chajul and met with town engineers.

Some of the successes from the trip were: 

  • Vendors and locations for supplies and maintenance were determined and are being followed up on
  • The school and members of the community are interested and willing to practice water conservation. Continuation of educating on water conservation will be considered as a priority.


In 2008 members of EWB-VT traveled to Xix to meet our local partners for the first time.  During the trip, plans were laid for future projects.  We thought of a way to clean the water supplies there, and decided to implement this design during our next trip.


EWB-VT traveled to Guatemala in May of 2009 and installed a treatment system to treat the school's water source, as decided from earlier planning trips.  Because the water source is seasonal, the project team switched focus to providing a year-round water source for the school, as well as providing solutions for other needs such as wastewater drainage.

Current Activities

EWB-VT-GT plans to continue communication with CEFONMA throughout the project and for at least 5 years after implementation, but the final wastewater and water systems will be CEFONMA’s own sustainable systems. A water conservation/education group has been established by EWB-VT-GT to communicate the broader impacts of the project to the students, teachers, staff, and funding agencies of CEFONMA and to develop a Spanish operation/maintenance manual for existing and future implemented systems.

If you are interested in joining the Guatemala listserv, please contact Lauren Schoener ( or Noah Davis (

Guatemala Summer 2011